Necessity versus Privilege

After an eventful morning I was challenged to think about the difference between necessity and privilege, and how we distinguish between the two.  Necessity and privilege lie at opposite ends of a spectrum and at various points along this line, we place things of importance to us.  Food, water, love, friends, possessions etc. are part of all our lives, and each of us will place  them at slightly different points.  The challenge for each of us, is where and how are they placed on our own particular continuum.

Bare necessities

As a starting point, let’s place necessity at the left end the continuum, and privilege at the right.  Let’s also assume for the moment, that we are working from an individual person’s view point.  The most fundamental necessities are air, food, water and shelter.  In a survival situation, these are the priorities to establish in order to stay alive.  Life however, is more than merely existing, it’s about being emotionally satisfied, having a purpose and finding fulfilment in that.

Depending on their backgrounds, different people will place things or values at different points on the continuum but for the most part we can agree that a bottle of champagne will be more to the right (privilege) than freedom of speech.  Tension arises when we are suddenly denied access to something which we are used to, and now feels to more of necessity than a privilege.

We might buy a new car, mobile phone or jacket.  Before, and just after the purchase we may feel, “Wow, what a privilege to have such a nice [ object ]!”.  As time goes by we use it more, and we become more accustomed to it being around, it starts to feel like a necessity.  The thought here, is that over time, what is at first a privilege drifts left toward necessity.  We feel naked without it, and  that we should have a right to it.


As a political example, freedom of speech, isn’t a prerequisite for living.  We can exist without it, but it lies in the middle ground which could be defined as rights.  Freedom of speech is something that has quite rightly been agreed as a basic human right and not privilege of the few.

I’ve been a practising parent now for 14 years, and goodness knows there is a lot of emphasis on the word practising.  During the holiday and non-school nights we let kids stay up later than normal.  Sometimes we watch films together and eat pop-corn.  Simple stuff, but it’s fun and it bonds us together.  What sometimes happens is that the boys suddenly desire a movie-night, normally right before starting the evening routine.  From the upset caused by the reminder that it’s now a school night and late at that, you’d think I’d just sold a grandmother.  What was previously a privilege has drifted towards being a right.  Not a lot, but enough for a commotion.

Other imposed limits may include internet or computer usage during the week; duration, timing and dependant on whether homework has been completed or not.  From a parents standpoint these are very much privileges.  From a child’s standpoint these are close to God given rights.  These limits are laid down by parents trying to figure out how to raise their kids.  What happens when limits are imposed by the state or government?

“Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.  The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” (C.S. Lewis)

Living thankfully

Whilst mother duck and myself are not tyrants, although the ducklings would possibly have their own views, we are trying to help them understand the difference between a necessity, a right, and a privilege.

It is one thing to be able to Handglass on a mapwatch and advise from the outside, but how do we do this from the inside, for oursevles?  What guides us, at a personal level, to decide what we need?  What do I have a right to?  What is a privilege for me?

I play guitar.  Two things I have quietly craved for a long time is a valve guitar amp and a gadget called and e-bow.  Playing with a group of fantastic musicians who are church with me has been a privilege.  One guy has lent me on long term basis his e-bow.  This is a genuine privilege, as is looking after the church’s valve amp.  Neither of these fantastic things are mine, but I get to play with them as much as I like.  I don’t need them, and I don’t have a right to them, but I’ve been granted their use for the time being and for this I am grateful.

What about the things that have become a right or even a necessity to me?  The car, our computers, the T.V.?  If they were to break down, or be stolen, would it be a disaster that feels like my most basic of needs are no longer being met or would be it an uncomfortable loss of a privilege?  There is a lot of relativity here.  If we lived in the far north, a car is an absolute necessity, but in the middle of the city it’s more towards the privilege of end of things.

Returning to my eventful morning, I have feeling that working out the difference between necessity and privilege, between  what is important and is luxury; the key seems to be to live with an attitude of gratefulness.  The trick is living life out in a way that the kids get it too.  I want them to enjoy the benefits of the age they live in, with these technical marvels and all the cool stuff they have access to, and the same understand the life is also more than plastic and bling.  I think we are getting there .. slowly.

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